Writer/Director Mariano Cohn and co-writer Gastón Duprat craft an unnerving and tense thriller in 4×4 that borrows the best from films like Phone Booth and Panic Room. It is a high concept bottle film that will undoubtedly cause you to make sure your car’s locks are still in working order.
The opening shots of 4×4 are a montage of countless security cameras, neighborhood watch warnings, and enough spikes and barbwires to make John Dillinger blush. Of course, that doesn’t stop Ciro (Peter Lanzani) from bypassing all of that and breaking into a — you guessed it — 4×4 parked on the side of a cobblestone street beautifully shaded by trees on both sides. He breaks into the driver seat using a tennis ball and hops in, admiring the gorgeous interior of the vehicle before relieving himself all over the backseat. At this point in 4×4, you’re formally introduced to Ciro, a common impoverished miscreant up to no good, and the movie makes sure you’re not confused about that one bit.
He’s there to steal the car stereo, and he takes it apart rather swiftly and effortlessly; as repulsive as he is, there’s no denying the man can work pretty fast. When he tries to get out, the movie begins to build this insurmountable tension that doesn’t ever really let up until the final act. All the doors are locked, the windows are polarized and bulletproof — not to mention soundproof — and the active suspension is locked, so he can’t just drive off. All the while, he’s being instructed and talked through by a calming yet deliberate voice, Doctor Enrique Ferrari (Dady Brieva), via the stereo, which eerily makes the car feel alive and more threatening. Ferrari is the vehicle’s sole owner, and his phone is connected with the vehicle, allowing him to adjust and monitor the car immediately. Ciro has nowhere to go, and neither do we.
Cohn’s 4×4 is a white-knuckle affair that examines morality through two lenses, one by the seemingly upstanding good doctor and the feckless thug who tried to rob him. Does Ciro deserve to be trapped in this car for an undisclosed amount of time? I’m willing to say yes to that, but does he also deserve to undergo freezing temperatures and incredible thirst? 4×4 invites you to juggle these variables of punishment but also makes you look at the bigger picture. Crime is all Ciro knows; born into it and molded by it. Is he even capable of change?
In one scene, a kid tries to break into the 4×4, and Ciro is both shocked and pleased only to watch the kid get mobbed and arrested by neighborhood bystanders. It was an oddly amusing scene to watch Ciro helplessly hope for something as ironic as that. Another scene has him looking down unfavorably at a homeless man dumpster diving in the distance. Is the homeless man beneath him in society’s eyes? He successfully pulls out a half-eaten slice of pizza, and Ciro’s judgemental eyes melt into jealousy. Throughout the film’s lean 90-minute runtime, we get to learn more about Ciro and Ferrari, two men on opposite ends of society’s spectrum interlocked in a mind game.
4×4 is rife with tension, sure, but what happens when he gets out? Or does he get out? Without going into spoilers, I will say that the film does start to lose steam by the third act, becomes a bit too preachy, and never fully recovers. What’s impressive is how Cohn and Duprat have managed to craft such a compelling thriller around such an unlikeable and slimy character in Ciro. He’s morally reprehensible, yet I’m hanging on to every little thing that confronts him. I feel trapped in that car with him, a testament to the overall direction and acting on display. Maybe Ciro should have just heeded the warnings from the neighborhood watch.
Is a stereo system worth it? Ciro says midway through the film, which perfectly encapsulates his viewpoint of the issues, “This place is full of poor people. With laws made by rich people for rich people. I will not obey them, not even if they gun me down.”
4×4 is available for streaming right now on Apple TV/iTunes.
4×4 lives and dies by Peter Lanzani’s performance, and he more than delivers in this edge-of-your-seat thriller. Despite an underwhelming climax, the film is sure to take you on a ride from its opening frames without the car even moving, an impressive paradoxical feat.